The New York Times has an excellent op-ed about how the internet, Dr. Google, spreads fake medical information that puts lives at risk.*
While misinformation has been the object of great attention in politics, medical misinformation might have an even greater body count. As is true with fake news in general, medical lies tend to spread further than truths on the internet — and they have very real repercussions.
We all knew the internet had the capacity to spread misinformation as well as reliable information. What we didn’t know, way back when, was whether people would be capable of distinguishing between the two. In contrast to the outliers, crazies and liars deliberately trying to scam people, some tried to provide sound information. After all, if the only information available on the internet was fake, then what else could people find?
When the blawgosphere came into being, it was really quite miraculous. A lot of interesting and, mostly, smart people writing about law, a subject that permeates our world. It included academics as well as trench lawyers, and a synergy developed where robust debate on serious subjects were our daily bread. One blawg was Prawfs, which spun off Concurring Opinions, called CoOp for short. Both were here before SJ. A few days ago, CoOp announced that it would close up shop at the end of the month.
At Volokh Conspiracy, which is still alive, but a shadow of its former self, Orin Kerr considers why CoOp is over.
I’m not entirely sure how to best describe what that future has become, although there does seem to be less interest in blogging among law professors these days. Part of that may be the rise of Twitter. And part of it may be that blogging didn’t bring the career payoffs that a lot of law professors thought it would when the “blogosphere” was young, at least relative to the time it took.
Readers, haters and critics inexplicably assumed there was some huge payback for blogging. People assumed fame, fortune and adoration motivated people to blog, and ascribed malevolent intent to the blawgosphere, doing their best to attack blawgers while contributing nothing of their own. There was no payoff for doing this.** It had its moments, like when a blog post was cited in an opinion, or when some great debate broke out in the blawgosphere, but that mostly it was just writing for its own sake.
Why do it? Who needed to fend off the crazies, the haters, the n00bs who were determined to tell you that you’re doing it all wrong and demanded you correct yourself or else? I had my reasons, but wasn’t inclined to re-explain myself every time someone impugned my motives. My theory, developed over time, is that I do the writing and readers, if they so choose, can contribute to cover the cost of keeping SJ on the screen. Some of you have been kind enough to contribute monthly. Some contribute when I remind you that there’s a tip jar on the side bar. Some are “patrons” of SJ. But it barely covers the cost of keeping this place alive. I’m not getting rich off it.
The benefit of the blawgosphere was that it was lawyers writing about law. Real law. Complicated issues. And it existed in contrast to the information on the internet about law that was fake, whether because it was written by marketeers, crazies or advocates who were lying to push their agenda. All of them had far greater incentives to put crap on the internet than lawyers who had nothing to sell and realized there would be no payoff at the end.
And if blawgs were too much to read, now there’s twitter to spew misinformation, which it does in spades. Most disturbing are the lawyers on twitter, with their axes to grind, promoting causes with lies, misinformation and half-truths. Unlike the blawgosphere, however, the medium lends itself to fakes by creating echo chambers of believers.
The other day, I twitted about the value of Ken White’s twitter lawsplainers in contrast to the misinformation others were spreading. Even that was controversial, as every little shit hiding behind a pseudonym gets to challenge it.*** Some lawyers have become very popular on twitter, feeding bad information to their fans, who love it because it validates their ignorance and feelings.
To the extent the internet has become a tool to spread fake information about medicine, about law, it depends on readers willing to do the hard work of preferring sound information over easily digestible tidbits of fake news that confirm their bias. Does it occur to anyone that I don’t have to wake up and write every morning? There’s no payoff, except to put real ideas on the table, and even that serves mostly to deal with antagonism from the offended these days.
What do you want of the internet? The promoters of “fake law” have an incentive. Those of us who try to be real have nothing to gain except the satisfaction of knowing that we tried our best not to make anyone stupider today. As Max Kennerly noted years ago, blogging is a pie eating contest where the winner gets more pie.
CoOp will soon be gone. People will refuse to have their kids vaccinated, and people will talk to the cops because only people with something to hide refuse, and people will believe the women and everything is racism and sexism. How much pie can one take?
*Ironically, in an op-ed about fake medical information, this paragraph pops up.
Silicon Valley needs to own this problem. I am not a free-speech lawyer, but when human health is at stake, perhaps search engines, social media platforms and websites should be held responsible for promoting or hosting fake information.
You can’t make this stuff up.
**For a while, lawyers were told that blogs were a great way to drum up business, and so firms started blogs, where a post or two a month promoted their practice and ended in a call to action, “retain us today!!!” The reality, that outside of a few obscure areas of practice it just didn’t work became clear fairly quickly, and they faded into oblivion.
***In response to the monumentally uncontroversial statement that not just criminals call snitches “rats,” but criminal defense lawyers, too, some precious little narcissists felt compelled to argue the point.